So first of all, what’s a ‘complaint’?
Well, in most people’s terms, we mean some kind of an expression of dissatisfaction: that the goods or services that someone got didn’t meet their expectations. Either that, or the consumer feels unhappy about how they were dealt with by the provider when things started to go wrong.
Most complaints, whether they arise in the public, private or statutory sector, and whether or not any money changes hands, can be resolved at an early stage: the two sides stop a dispute from developing just by talking things through. A refund or replacement is given, maybe accompanied by an apology; or perhaps the body complained against simply gets a chance to explain how and why something was done in a particular way.
But when communication starts to break down, this can be the point where both sides feel they are not being listened to: the complainant feels fobbed off or ignored, and so redoubles their complaint, while the body they are complaining to starts to feel pestered, or as though the complainant has an unrealistic expectation of what can be done to put things right.
So, in the absence of any other alternative, this would often be the stage where people resort to arbitration or to the courts. Unfortunately, this is where relationships can really get spoiled, where layers of formality can get in the way of good dialogue, and where the process ends up with a sense of one person winning and the other one losing.
And it is just before this point of invoking formal processes that mediation can come in, as a very simple way to help people come to a resolution that they can both live with, and where neither side feels as though they have ‘lost’.
And there is nothing complicated about mediation, either. It goes like this:
• An independent mediator, someone who is an expert in getting people talking, meets both sides separately to hear what each has to say. These meetings are private, so that people can speak freely.
• The mediator looks at how best to get a conversation going between the two sides: sometimes it will be fairer to have a face-to-face discussion while, other times, it might work better to keep them apart and for the mediator to shuttle between the two.
• Both sides are encouraged to listen, to get their points across clearly, and to clarify what it is they want from the other. The mediator’s job is to stay impartial, to keep the discussions fair, and to help people to focus more on what could happen to put things right.
• Assuming they reach a resolution, the mediator will help everyone to write down their outcomes. This could include a plan for what will happen next, as well as a review date to check whether things have worked out.
We provide complaints mediation in disputes between purchasers and suppliers, in health and social care, within the UK and in cross-border disputes, and in any public, private or statutory setting. It is a very straightforward and productive alternative to going through the delay, expense, and ultimate dissatisfaction of arbitration or court action.
In addition, I will be hosting a free webinar, ‘Mediating Customer Complaints‘, this Friday (18th January). Book your place here.